When the lights go out and racing starts at Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, it will have been 217 days — or 31 weeks — since the chequered flag last fell on a Formula One championship event.
The coronavirus pandemic delayed the 2020 season by nearly four months from its original starting point — the Australian Grand Prix in March — but has also forced F1 into some radical decisions it might not have made otherwise.
Austria’s race is the first of eight confirmed events we have to kick-start the new season, although F1 hopes to expand that schedule to 15-18 races in the coming weeks.
It is remarkable how much has happened since we last went racing — F1 arrives in Austria with some fundamental differences from the sport that left Abu Dhabi in December. Here’s everything that has happened in the seven long months without a grand prix.
Dec. 1: Ferrari is summoned to the stewards following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The news reignites controversy over the Italian team’s engine, which had lingered through the year.
After the investigation of Charles Leclerc’s car, Ferrari is fined 50,000 Euros for a fuel irregularity, but Leclerc is not thrown out of the race and holds on to third position at the 2019 season finale.
At the same time, Lewis Hamilton acknowledged a recent meeting with Ferrari president John Elkann. Over the Abu Dhabi GP weekend, rumours of a Hamilton-Ferrari deal gathered pace.
Speaking after winning the race, Hamilton said: “I love where I am, so it’s obviously not a quick decision to go do something else, but I think it’s only smart and wise for me to sit and think of what I want and if it is the last stage of my career.”
Dec. 5: Ferrari collects some Formula One silverware as Italian gamer David Tonizza claims the esports F1 Pro Series championship.
Dec. 6: Hamilton picks up his sixth world championship trophy at the FIA’s Prize Giving Gala. He calls 2019 the best racing season of his life.
Hamilton also hints that Max Verstappen, who was also at the gala, had been calling Mercedes boss Toto Wolff for a future contract.
“It’s an interesting time because there are lot of drivers who are seeking positions everywhere,” Hamilton said. “The amount of calls that Toto gets from drivers — including the one that was up here just recently — asking to come, everyone’s thing [is] to leave their team to come to where we are.”
The same day, Renault confirms the departure of technical director Nick Chester, following a difficult campaign that saw the French manufacturer finish behind engine customer McLaren.
Dec. 7: Williams confirms W Series’ inaugural champion Jamie Chadwick will remain in its driver academy for 2020.
Dec. 10: Formula One teams unanimously vote to reject Pirelli’s prototype 2020 tyre, opting instead to stay with the constructions used in 2019. Drivers had been largely unimpressed with the 2020 prototype during the two-day tyre test that followed the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Dec. 13: McLaren’s Lando Norris is named Rookie of the Year for 2019, beating Red Bull’s Alexander Albon and Williams’ George Russell with a whopping 76% of the fan vote.
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto also confirms the Italian team is looking to add a female driver to its academy lineup.
“Women should be part of the Ferrari Driver Academy,” Binotto said. “That’s something we are working right now to make sure that it will happen very soon. Ferrari is always investing in the future to make sure that we can be stronger and stronger over the medium and long term.”
Dec. 18: Williams signs British driver Dan Ticktum to a development role.
Dec. 23: Leclerc is rewarded for his stellar first season at Ferrari with five-year contract extension. The news raised speculation about the future of Sebastian Vettel, who was set to enter the final year of his contract in 2020.
Jan. 1: Robert Kubica joins Alfa Romeo as reserve driver
After being dropped by Williams after his deflating 2019 comeback year, Kubica ensured he will stay affiliated to Formula One by taking on the reserve driver role at Alfa Romeo. Kubica’s sponsor ORLEN went with him to the Swiss team.
Jan. 7: Verstappen signs a three-year Red Bull contract extension, one that extends beyond Honda’s existing commitment to the team. It is not only a ringing endorsement of the team’s F1 project, but it also takes the Dutchman off the driver market for the foreseeable future.
Jan. 10: The FIA launches e-karts launched to answer Lewis Hamilton’s call for greater diversity in racing. The initiative will be run by former Ferrari and Williams engineer Rob Smedley.
“As Lewis Hamilton himself said recently: racing has become too expensive and is not diverse enough,” Smedley said at the time. “I totally agree. Through electrification we can change that. We will be the driving force to inspire, energise and thrill racers as they climb the ladder. It is cleaner, cheaper, faster and importantly, fairer.”
Jan. 15: Williams signs Israeli driver Roy Nissany to a reserve role for the coming season. Nissany’s role means he is on standby to replace Russell or Nicholas Latifi if either is unable to compete at a race weekend.
Jan. 17: Ferrari adds Leclerc’s younger brother, Arthur, to its driver academy. Arthur joins an academy including Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time world champion Michael, Enzo Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time world champion Emerson, and Giuliano Alesi, son of French former Ferrari driver Jean.
Jan. 20: F1’s commercial boss, Sean Bratches, announces he will be stepping down from his position at the end of the month. Bratches joined F1 from ESPN with Liberty Media’s takeover at the beginning of 2017.
Jan. 29: Fernando Alonso says he has his sights set on a Formula One return in the future as he has “unfinished business” with the sport. The Spaniard’s McLaren affiliation had officially ended at the end of 2019.
Jan. 30: Motor racing’s governing body, the FIA, confirms it is monitoring the threat of COVID-19 on the Formula One and Formula E seasons. It is the first public statement on the flu-like virus, which originated in China.
Jan. 31: Racing Point confirms it will become Aston Martin from 2021 onwards. The news followed Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, father of Racing Point driver Lance, purchasing up to 20% of Aston Martin. Reports suggest Stroll paid £182 million for a 16.7% stake, which could rise to 20%.
Feb. 4: British driver Jack Aitken joins Williams in a development role. The move bolsters Williams’ roster further — Aitken joins Ticktum and Chadwick in behind-the-scenes roles for the F1 team.
Feb. 6: Haas offers the first glimpse of a 2020 car, releasing a rendering of the VF-20. The American team’s car featured a move back to its traditional colours of Gene Haas’ company following its split with title sponsor Rich Energy in 2019.
Feb. 10: At the launch of Mercedes’ 2020 car livery, Wolff says Mercedes and Hamilton remains an “obvious pairing” for the team’s immediate future.
Feb. 11: Ferrari unveils 2020 car, the SF1000. The car’s name denotes the milestone of the team’s 1000th race, which it will celebrate during the upcoming season.
At the launch, Elkann downplays the prospect of a move for Hamilton, saying Vettel is Ferrari’s “first choice” to be Leclerc’s teammate in 2021.
Feb. 12: The Chinese Grand Prix is postponed from its original slot in the calendar, April 19, due to the spread of coronavirus.
Feb. 13: Renault launches its 2020 season, minus its completed livery and the car itself, at an event in Paris. The car will carry an all-black trim through testing, and the car itself is not seen by the public until the first day in Barcelona.
Red Bull also rolls out its 2020 car for the first time in a filming event at Silverstone, one of the two allowed to every team in a calendar year.
Feb. 14: McLaren unveils its car for the new season.
Feb. 15: Toro Rosso completes its rebrand to Alpha Tauri, the name of Red Bull’s clothing brand, at an event in Salzburg, Austria. The rebrand is marked with a swanky new-look blue and white matte livery.
Mercedes also completes the first laps with its 2020 car at Silverstone.
Feb. 16: Racing Point reveals the first images of its pink livery.
Feb. 19-21: Alfa Romeo unveils its car in the pit lane on the opening morning of preseason testing. Sebastian Vettel misses the test for Ferrari as he is feeling unwell. The first test continues through to Feb. 21.
The item that creates the biggest stir in the opening week is Mercedes’ dual-axis steering (DAS), which allows Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to adjust the alignment of the front wheels from the cockpit — something that was previously possible only when the car was stationary in the garage. The system is controlled by the driver either pulling or pushing the steering wheel while they are driving in a straight line.
Feb. 26-28 Teams complete the three days earmarked for the second and final preseason test in Barcelona. While Mercedes remains quickest, an engine issue for Hamilton on the second day of this test raises speculation of underlying reliability issues with the world champion’s car.
What causes the biggest stir this time around, however, is not on a car, but rather an FIA statement that it had reached a private settlement with Ferrari over its 2019 engine. No further details into the investigation are released.
March 3: Formula One’s head of motorsport, Ross Brawn, insists the sport will not race on if one of its team is unable to compete due to a case of coronavirus. Despite fears about the global spread of COVID-19, F1 heads to Australia for the opening race.
March 4: Seven of F1’s 10 teams — everyone except Ferrari and its two engine customers, Haas and Alfa Romeo — unite to threaten the FIA with legal action if “full and proper disclosure” is not given about the FIA-Ferrari engine settlement. The statement questions the governing body’s transparency and integrity.
March 5: Following the statement of the day before, the FIA offers clarification on the Ferrari engine settlement.
Its statement said: “The extensive and thorough investigations undertaken during the 2019 season raised suspicions that the Scuderia Ferrari PU could be considered as not operating within the limits of the FIA regulations at all times. The Scuderia Ferrari firmly opposed the suspicions and reiterated that its PU always operated in compliance with the regulations.
“The FIA was not fully satisfied but decided that further action would not necessarily result in a conclusive case due to the complexity of the matter and the material impossibility to provide the unequivocal evidence of a breach.”
March 8: The Bahrain Grand Prix announces its March 22 event, scheduled to be the second race of the year, will take place behind closed doors without spectators due to fears over COVID-19.
March 9: Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief Andrew Westacott insists there is “not a chance” the season-opening race will close its doors to spectators.
March 10: Formula One announces a major sponsorship deal with Saudi Aramco, further raising the prospect of a Saudi Arabia Grand Prix in future.
March 12: A day before the opening practice session of the season, McLaren withdraws from the Australian Grand Prix after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
Earlier the day, during his media session, reigning world champion Hamilton had questioned the logic behind the race going ahead, saying “cash is king”.
March 13: After a night of uncertainty and contradictory reports, F1 calls off the Australian Grand Prix due to coronavirus fears.
March 14: F1 postpones the second and fourth events on the calendar, Bahrain and Vietnam. With the third race, China, already postponed, it means there is no scheduled race until the Spanish Grand Prix at the beginning of May.
March 16: F1 tyre supplier Pirelli confirms a member of staff tested positive for coronavirus in Australia.
March 18: Mercedes steps back from the statement demanding greater transparency into the FIA-Ferrari engine investigation, leaving six teams to pursue legal action with the FIA.
March 18: Formula One agrees to bring forward its usual two-week August shutdown of facilities. That period is extended to three weeks, with teams having to shut down its facilities for that length of time between March 18 and the end of April.
March 19: As the potential economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic start to become clear, F1 confirms it will delay the big rule change planned for 2021 for a year. F1 had been set for a radical, but expensive, overhaul of its technical regulations to create cars better equipped for close racing.
F1 also confirms it has postponed the next three races on its calendar, Spain, Monaco and Canada. In response to this, the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM) cancelled the famous Monte Carlo street race outright. The news came the say day Monaco’s monarch, Prince Albert II, tested positive for the coronavirus.
March 20: F1 launches the Virtual Racing Series to fill the void left by postponed and cancelled races over the coming months.
March 23: F1 postpones the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which had been set to take place on June 7. F1 CEO Chase Carey says the championship is still aiming to have 15-18 races in the 2020 season.
March 26: Fourteen McLaren team members, including the one who tested positive for COVID-19, return to the UK from Australia following a period of quarantine.
March 27: F1’s seven UK-based teams unite under Project Pitlane to coordinate a response to the UK government’s call for the manufacture of much-needed medical equipment.
March 30: Mercedes and University College London release details of a breathing aid it has reverse-engineered. The breathing aid can be rapidly produced to treat coronavirus patients.
April 2: McLaren becomes the first F1 team to furlough its staff due to the coronavirus pandemic, with drivers Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz taking a pay cut. Six more teams will follow suit in the coming weeks.
April 5: Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc wins the second Virtual Racing Series event, held in place of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Norris, frustrated at further issues with the connection, uninstalls the F1 2019 game from his PC in protest.
April 6: As Williams becomes the second team to furlough staff, McLaren CEO Zak Brown warns F1 risks losing three or four teams if the right decisions are not made in the coming weeks.
April 7: The Canadian Grand Prix of June 14 is postponed.
April 12: F1 legend Stirling Moss, widely considered the greatest driver never to win a world championship, dies aged 90.
April 14: F1 cancels the French Grand Prix, meaning there will be no race until July at the earliest. Plans form around a season beginning with the Austrian Grand Prix at the beginning of July.
April 17: Vettel says he is making progress on a new Ferrari deal and says there’s a “high chance” a new contract will be signed before the first race of the F1 season.
April 20: Silverstone boss Stuart Pringle says the British circuit is open to hosting two 2020 races behind closed doors.
April 24: McLaren CEO Zak Brown accuses Ferrari of being in denial over the existential threat F1 faces from the coronavirus as discussion over a 2020 budget cap intensify. The previous week, Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto had said it was “not the time to react in a hurry” and make hasty decisions without assessing the consequences.
May 4: F1 confirms it will introduce a $145 million budget cap in 2021, which will be scaled down to $135 million by 2023. It is a significant reduction on the $175 million cap that had been proposed at the beginning of the year.
May 7: F1 announces an 84% drop in revenues, as its income from January to March drops from $246 million in 2019 to $39 million this year.
May 8: F1 confirms it is considering new and old F1 venues to fill the 2020 calendar and help reverse its downturn in revenues.
May 12: Ferrari confirms Vettel will not be offered a contract extension beyond 2020. Binotto will say Ferrari and Vettel no longer shared the same short- or long-term goals.
May 13: Ferrari confirms McLaren’s Sainz will replace Vettel in 2021. McLaren announces it has signed Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo to replace Sainz.
May 15: Ferrari says it is considering a 2022 entry in IndyCar as it responds to F1’s plans to introduce a $145 million budget cap. Such a measure would allow Ferrari to create jobs for staff members made redundant in the spending cuts likely to be needed to bring the F1 team in line with the new budget restriction.
May 19: As plans for the new season take shape, the head of the FIA’s medical commission, professor Gerard Saillant, says F1 could cope with up to 10 cases at any race held under coronavirus protocols.
“I think the situation is quite different between Melbourne and Austria now,” Saillant said. “The knowledge of the virus is quite different. It is possible to prevent and to anticipate a lot of things.”
May 24: Formula E driver Daniel Abt is fired by his Audi team for getting someone else to race for him during an esports event.
May 27: F1 formally agrees to the $145 million budget cap for 2020. It also confirms a new sliding scale of development, which will give the team that wins the championship the least car development time in the wind tunnel the following season, while the team finishing 10th will be given the most. The model is loosely based on the drafts used to in U.S. sports.
May 28: F1 cancels the Dutch Grand Prix, meaning the Zandvoort race will not return to the calendar until 2021.
Williams confirms it is considering selling its struggling F1 team.
May 29: Renault cools reports it is considering quitting F1 by reaffirming its long-term commitment to the championship.
May 31: Lewis Hamilton calls out the “white-dominated” F1 for its silence over George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed while in Minneapolis police custody.
June 2: F1 formally announces a provisional eight-race calendar to start the season, starting with the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5. It is still hoped the championship can consist of 15-18 races once races outside the European continent are added.
June 3: Mercedes blocks a push for reverse grid races at the “second” races taking place in Austria and Britain, the two nations hosting doubleheaders on the revised calendar.
Mercedes’ Wolff reasons that F1 does not need “gimmicks” to provide entertaining racing.
June 6: F1 adds an extra year on its existing race deals with Hungary, Belgium and Italy after the three venues agree to host spectator-free races in the new calendar.
June 7: Russell completes a hat trick of victories at the Virtual Racing Series at the event held in place of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
June 9-10: Mercedes completes a private, two-day test in its 2018 car at Silverstone, featuring Bottas and Hamilton. It becomes the first team to practice F1’s new coronavirus safety protocols.
June 12: F1 cancels the races planned for Japan, Singapore and Azerbaijan as it narrows down options for venues to fill the second half of its 2020 calendar.
June 14: Leclerc says he wants to try the real-life Le Mans 24 Hours in the future after taking part in the virtual running of the famous endurance race.
Russell claims the unofficial title of Virtual Racing Series champion after finishing the tournament with more points than anyone else.
June 15: Mercedes announces the departure of engine boss Andy Cowell, one of the main architects behind its current spell of dominance in F1.
June 18: Leclerc takes the SF1000 Ferrari through the streets of Maranello, the famous location of its F1 headquarters, to kick off the team’s preparations to return to work ahead of the new season.
June 19: Former IndyCar and F1 driver and Paralympic champion Alex Zanardi suffers severe head injuries in a road accident while racing his handbike in Italy the day.
June 21: Hamilton launches a new commission aimed at pushing diversity in motorsport.
Hamilton, who attended a Black Lives Matter in London’s Hyde Park the same weekend, says: “Winning championships is great, but I want to be remembered for my work creating a more equal society through education”.
June 22: F1 announces it will use the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix to launch a new initiative against racism, which includes a diversity and equality task force.
June 29: Mercedes confirms a change of livery for the new season, with black replacing its traditional silver colours as part of a new push to improve diversity in the company.
June 30: Ferrari confirms it will not be bringing upgrades to either Austria race, having identified issues with the car it ran in preseason testing. The Italian team is instead targeting the Hungarian Grand Prix for its first major aerodynamic package.
Mercedes and Red Bull will bring upgrades to the opening race, while Renault says it has rolled upgrades planned for the original events in Vietnam, Netherlands and Barcelona into one package for Austria.